History of Korean United Methodists
The documentary, “Making the World Their Parish: The Story of Korean United Methodists,” traces the immigration of Koreans to America, and the roots and development of the Korean Methodist Church in Honolulu and the mainland of America through rare footage and photos.
To read more about about the Korean United Methodist Church in Korean, you may visit the website at http://www.koreanumc.org/
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For more than 100 years, Koreans and Korean-Americans have been making the world their parish through the Methodist Movement.
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Today, the Korean community represents one of the strongest-growing parts of The United Methodist Church, supporting mission and ministry locally and around the world.
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“Making the World Their Parish: The Story of Korean United Methodists”
December 22, 1902. The first group of Korean immigrants boards the S.S. Gaelic in Inchon, Korea, their destination, Honolulu, Hawaii, there to become workers in the sugar plantations. They were mostly young people seeking their fortunes. Yes, there was the excitement of travel, adventure and opportunity, but also, there was the fear of the unknown and worry about loved ones left behind.
(Voice of Korean diary-writer, reenactment)
“Two weeks have passed since we left Korea. We are tired, afraid and anxious about the future. We miss our families so much. Those who we left behind in Korea. We can’t talk to them anymore. It’s just terrible. My brothers look tired, too. Some are suffering from sea sickness, others from the flu. How far do we have left to go?”
After stopping at Nagasaki, they sailed for another eleven days and finally arrived at Honolulu Harbor. The date was January 13, 1903.
Hawaii was not a paradise for the new Korean immigrants. They soon felt the shock of dealing with an alien culture, the language barrier, the racial discrimination. Their new world was not the beautiful, tropical beaches but the harsh reality of the sugar plantation and its backbreaking labor.
The dream of the immigrants quickly turned to dust. They thought they would find prosperity in America but, instead, they were paid low wages for working ten hours a day in the grueling sun.
Their hearts had been set on returning to Korea, on getting married and living good lives back home, but that dream, too, seemed impossible now. To address this crisis of morale among Korean workers, the plantation workers initiated the “picture bride” program. The idea was to secure wives from Korea for these laborers through an exchange of photographs. Eleven hundred courageous and adventurous young women made the journey to Honolulu, but their story is one of hardship, right from the beginning. They had to work side by side with the men in the sugar cane fields doing work that was every bit as physically demanding as the men. All this in addition to raising children and making a home.
In the midst of that trying and difficult situation, the Methodist Church emerged as the place where Korean people could turn for rest, renewal and hope. There they could share their struggles and receive comfort from knowing that Jesus Christ was walking with them in their trials and tribulations. That he was able to strengthen them – to see them through any, and all, circumstances.
The Methodist connection started in Korea with American Methodist missionaries like George Heber Jones. Jones helped spread the Gospel in Korea and served as pastor of Naeri Methodist Church in Inchon. Perhaps unaware of the brutal realities of the cane fields, he agreed to recruit volunteers for work in Hawaii from among the members of his own church. And, so it was that fifty of the first one hundred two immigrants were strong Methodist Christians before they left Korea.
(Voice of Duk Hee Murabayashi, Korean Studies, School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, 2002-06)
They started having prayer meeting and worship service every day on the boat. By the time they landed at Honolulu, the members grew to fifty-eight, so actually, that’s the first Korean Methodist congregation formed on the boat of S.S. Gaelic, so we should actually recognize that fact.
The first immigrants who arrived on the S.S. Gaelic were sent to the Waialua Sugar Plantation. The next group that arrived on March 3, 1903 were sent to the plantation at Kahuku. These two groups began to worship together, forming the Kahuku Waialua Korean Mission. New groups of immigrants were arriving from Korea every month. More than eight thousand people in less than three years. As they arrived, they were sent to different sugar plantations on various Hawaiian Islands. And in almost every case, there was a small group of Methodist Christians who organized worship gatherings. These groups were led by local preachers or lay leaders who had been Methodist Christians in Korea.
Some Koreans decided to leave the plantations and take their chances in the city. In November of 1903, Chung Soo An and Pyeng Kil Woo organized a group that began worshipping in a small, rented room in downtown Honolulu. The growth was rapid. Within one month, the evangelical society had to move to a larger house. In April of 1905, they were granted regular church status by the Hawaii Methodist Mission superintendent. Honolulu’s first Korean Methodist Church established the Korean Boarding School for Boys and created the Korean Compound on Punch Bowl Street, the center of life for many Korean immigrants in Honolulu. They also published a Korean newsletter which was distributed throughout the Korean community.
In 1910, the Japanese annexed and occupied Korea. Breaking the hearts of Korean immigrants in America. First Korean Methodist along with other churches became the focal point for the Korean resistance activities.
For Korean Americans, the church has always been much more than attend worship services. It was and is a place where practical help with daily living can be found. A place to learn English or where one’s children can be taught Korean. It is where community events are held and Korean culture is celebrated. Where news from Korea is shared.
In the 1960s, First Korean Methodist changed its name to Christ United Methodist United Church. But across a century of service, Christ Church has stood as the mother church of Korean American Methodism.
Over the years, some of the original Korean immigrants moved from Hawaii to the mainland of America. They moved to major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. But, where ever they settled, the church continued to be the center of their lives. In each of those cities, the Methodist Church was the first Christian denomination to serve the needs of the Korean people.
The story of Korean immigration is a key part of Methodist church history because in Hawaii, the Korean immigrants reinvigorated the Methodist movement. By the time the first session of the Hawaiian Mission was held, sixty-four percent of all Methodists in Hawaii were Korean. There was one Caucasian church, eleven Japanese churches and nineteen Korean churches. Among the nine hundred, forty-five Methodists in Hawaii, six hundred and five were Korean.
We are proud to be the first son church of the Korean community. We are proud of our contributions to the Korean community, to America and to the United Methodist Church.
Editor's Note: This video was produced by Hilly Hicks for United Methodist Communications in 2003 and revised in 2011.